REVIEW: Bliss Bennet’s A REBEL WITHOUT A ROGUE, Or Tell Me Your Name and I’ll Tell You No Lies

Rebel_Without_RogueMiss Bates approaches a new-to-her author, especially a self-published one, with trepidation. Witness? Her DNF posts. But Bliss Bennet is the writer of the Romance Novels For Feminists blog, which Miss B. reads and enjoys. And she was curious: what kind of a romance would a long-familiar blogger write? Given the blog content, will it be “feminist”? Though Miss Bates calls herself a feminist, she doesn’t read romance, or rather she doesn’t deliberately read romance because it carries a particular stance. She went into reading Bennet’s romance with these questions and departed, as she tapped the final page on her Kobo, not really caring how they were, or not, answered. Because she was completely swept up in the story.
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REVIEW: Robin York’s HARDER, From Surviving To Thriving

HarderMiss Bates loved Robin York’s Deeper. Highly anticipated Harder is the second part of Caroline Piasecki and West Leavitt’s story, in Ruthie Knox’s second incarnation as a writer of New Adult romance. It doesn’t feel as New Adult as the first, though. West and Caroline are grown up; they’ve made decisions and are living with the consequences. Their characters are set, though West must let go of the past to have a future with Caroline. The reader knows that, in ten or fifteen years, she would recognize them as the hero and heroine of Harder. If York wrote Caroline and West’s story twenty years down the line, Miss Bates’d be happy to read it. Caroline and West are just that likable. And why not? Knox/York was successful with Amber and Tony from How To Misbehave to ten-years-later Making It Last

Though York tends to lean to the thematically didactic, her characters are consistently engaging and her writing inspired, skirting the edgy; in places, overwrought, but there is no doubt she is a stylist. Moreover, whether her vision is congenial to the reader or not, it’s undeniable that she writes with purpose and ideas. A character in Harder describes visual art as, ” … the purpose of art is to make you feel or think, and a lot of the time both.” York does both as well in Harder as she did in Deeper. Miss Bates read Harder with as much pleasure and interest as she did Deeper: she read through the day and she read through the night. And she loved near every moment of it. Continue reading

REVIEW: Molly O’Keefe’s NEVER BEEN KISSED, Or The Flower and The Watering-Can

Never_Been_KissedMiss Bates noted, since reading Molly O’Keefe’s first Boys of Bishop contemporary romance, Wild Child, that her second, Never Been Kissed, again builds a romance around headline news. Characters are besieged by the media, or embroiled in it, seeking, or avoiding notoriety, or manipulating it to gain their ends. This makes for an interesting vacillation between the public world of the camera’s flash and news report and the private world where characters work out their varied, complex relationships with lovers and family. It reminds us how easily, in this age of voracious media, the private becomes public, how it encroaches, and what a challenge it is to stay. This theme adds depth to O’Keefe’s story, depth that she’s always had in spades anyway, if Miss Bates’ last O’Keefe review is anything to go by. If you read one historical romance this year, it should be O’Keefe’s Western-set, post-bellum Seduced. Though years and worlds away, Never Been Kissed confronts similar questions of how to move on from the past, of self-worth and purpose, of negotiating a relationship with odds stacked against it, of the heart’s conflicts, of what it means to be American. Never Been Kissed is the story of the romance between taciturn ex-Marine-bodyguard, Brody Baxter, and rich-girl do-gooder, Ashley Montgomery, who, ten years ago, at seventeen, made a pass at him when he worked as a bodyguard for her family. He rebuffed her, quit his job, but never forgot her … nor she him. Extraordinary circumstances bring them together again, but everyday, private life, when they retreat to Brody’s hometown of Bishop, Arkansas, will make, or break their fragile love. Continue reading

REVIEW: Mary Balogh’s THE ESCAPE, Running To, or Running From?

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Beautiful cover!

One of Miss Bates’ dearest friends is an artist. She once told Miss B. that visual artists fall into one of two categories: those whose primary focus is colour, or those whose primary focus is line. Maybe we can say the same about romance writers? Those who use line make use of strongly delineated roles for their characters; they rely on convention to build a narrative. Their characters, such as in PNR romance, do not deviate from their prescribed roles: mates are fated; there may be some negotiation and manoeuvring to reach the HEA, but, overall, the reader can see exactly where this is going. Deviations occur in plot rather than characterization. We may also see this in romantic suspense, which is not to say that subversions of the conventions don’t occur. Then, there are colorists, whose primary focus is in the development and transformation, over the course of a simple narrative, of character, in particular the heroine and hero. Mary Balogh is a colorist; her interest lies in characters in transition, caught in a moment when they have to do serious thinking and decision-making about where they’re going. She is also interested in how desire and love can insert themselves into people’s lives at the most inconvenient, unlikely, and often unwelcome moments. Hero and heroine have to work out the impetus towards love/commitment and pulling away from the bonds of engagement, a yearning for connection and longing, at the same time, solitude and independence. These conflicting and conflicted impulses are evident in both her male and female characters. Continue reading

Georgette Heyer’s DEVIL’S CUB Foiled By A Heroine “Mistress of Herself”

Devil's_CubIn April, Miss Bates followed a discussion about the question of a romance canon. The debate began with a thorny Salon article which, nevertheless, inspired interesting responses. For Miss Bates, said article was of minimal regard: its noblesse oblige attitude towards the genre ensured she stop reading by first paragraph’s end. The responses, however, were a boon: the always fearlessly incisive Vacuous Minx, no-nonsense sharpness and smarts of Wendy the Superlibrarian, perspective of Love In the Margins, take of Romance Novels for Feminists, and Jody at Momentum Moonlight. Miss Bates, though agreeing with these points of view, found Jody’s stance the most helpful because it summarized the problematic nature of canon setting/launching/exploding and offered an alternate term and means of pointing to seminal texts in the genre. Jody defines “iconic” texts as those which “affect the genre in a meaningful way.” Simple, direct, flexible, and workable. Miss Bates borrows Jody’s term “iconic” to identify “affective/effective” romance texts, such as Heyer’s, subject of her present post. Jody’s definition implies that iconic romance texts are those to which other romance texts accrue. They represent something important to the genre, not that they are necessarily meritorious in and of themselves, though they may very well be. They’re a hub; other texts are the spokes. They’re texts around which discussion occurs. (Sometimes, they may be denigrated, or rejected texts, representing things we don’t want to see in the genre, such as elements found in Old Skool romances.) They may change; more may be added, or forgotten, as the genre develops, grows, or regresses. Time is the only given. Miss Bates also thinks that the genre benefits more from pointing to an author, rather than individual texts, to identify an iconic moment in it. Heyer would certainly be present in such company.

When Miss Bates read her first Georgette Heyer, These Old Shades, she wasn’t aware of Heyer’s iconic status for romance readers. On reading her second, Devil’s Cub, published 1932, a sort of sequel to Shades (not 50!), educated somewhat in the genre (though by no means is she done, nor does she purport to be an expert), it’s evident that Heyer contributed iconic texts. Heyer’s tropes echo in every duke, rake, and plain-Jane; nonetheless, reading Devil’s Cub was alienating. That may be because of a narrative shift in more recent romance that Miss Bates’ refers to as the main characters’ endless internal ruminations. In that sense, Heyer appears quaint vis-à-vis character development and an excess of madcap plot; she forewent modernism. Yet, Miss Bates found something refreshing about a romance narrative where reader has to decode gesture and pose rather than thinker-tells-all of characters’ internal worlds in close point of view. Ye shall know them by their gesture … this is her subject. Bear with her: bodies in Heyer, what do they tell us? How does she establish character through the physicality of gesture, pose, tone, and gaze?  Continue reading

TBR Challenge Review: “Lovely Rita” Month Saw Miss B. Read Marion Lennox’s HER ROYAL BABY

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Charming cover: check out Tammy’s flipflops!

Miss Bates is content to return to her neglected TBR Challenge! Check it out chez Wendy here. This month’s theme was to read a nominated, or winning Rita title. Because Miss Bates is pathetically slumping along to Ros’s Summer Big Fat Book read-a-long, she chose a category romance. They’re short and she’s already behind the BFB, and summer reading piles litter her apartment and slow down two e-readers. (Way too much time on Twitter for Miss B.; also lolling, gazing at sunbeams, and sleeping in. It’s a feline life.) Reading Rita winners was one way Miss Bates segued into romance: their annual nominated and winning title lists provided tried and true romance reading as Miss B. figured out what she liked and didn’t in the genre. (Shudder PNR.) It was with nostalgia for her early romance reading days that she looked at titles she’d added to the TBR from these romance reading baby steps. Marion Lennox’s Her Royal Baby won the 2004 Best Traditional Romance. Woot! thought Miss B., category, baby, Rita winner, and an author that she’s wanted to read for ages thanks to some nifty reviews over at Dear Author lauding Lennox’s more recent category novels. The whole royalty thing is not to Miss B.’s taste, no blood is blue she says, but she liked the cover. Miss Bates doesn’t regret her choice, but boy oh boy, was this ever a flawed and floundering effort. Continue reading

REVIEW: Miranda Neville’s LADY WINDERMERE’S LOVER, “But summer to [her] heart”

Lady_Windermere's_LoverMiss Bates can’t tell if it’s something in the air, but this is the second second-chance-at-love romance she’s read this month. It’s not a favourite trope (hello! marriage-of-convenience 😉 ), dependent as it on filler-back-story, but it does have richness potential. Neville’s latest London-set Georgian romance, Lady Windermere’s Lover, did not disappoint. Though it wasn’t as perfect as Ruin Of A Rogue, Miss Bates read it in one sitting because, even imperfect, Neville’s characters and the unfolding of their relationships engage Miss Bates emotionally, the tried-and-true test of any romance worth its mettle.

Miss Bates’s measuring rod for the estranged-couple trope is Balogh’s Counterfeit Betrothal, the most heart-wrenching-please-please-get-back-together marriage-in-trouble story she’s ever read. Lady Windermere’s Lover doesn’t have the gravitas of Balogh’s classic, maybe because Neville’s couple, Lady Cynthia and Damian, Earl of Windermere, are younger, apart only a year after a disastrous start. They don’t have children and the road to their HEA, though painful in places, is lighter, with lovely humorous touches, like the kitten, Pudge, and a terrific larger-than-life secondary character, Julian Fortescue, the “lover of the title,” who often steals the show. There are echoes here of one of Miss Bates’s favourite romances, Rose Lerner’s marriage-of-convenience romance, In For A Penny. Like Penny, Lady Windermere’s Lover is a cross-class romance, of a cit and aristocrat who marries for lucre, and Windermere has a nice working-class history addendum in the struggle of the Spitalfields silk workers. Lerner’s hero is more sympathetic and heroine has greater depth and historical accuracy, but Neville also deftly navigates these elements. Neville is consistently worth reading; Lady Windermere’s Lover is worth reading. And awaiting that wicked, compelling, Heyer-esque Julian Fortescue to tell his story … Continue reading

REVIEW: Meredith Duran’s FOOL ME TWICE, Or How the Mighty Are Risen

Fool Me TwiceUntil Miss Bates read Jeannie Lin’s Jade Temptress, she’d despaired of recent historical romances. Her faith was restored by Lin’s 9th-century-China tale of mystery and romance, that of the smooth, skillful writing and historical authenticity. Okay, Miss Bates thought, maybe it’s the European historical one should give up … and then she read Duran’s Fool Me Twice and, as Shakespeare’s Macbeth says, “mine eyes are made the fools of the other senses.” Miss Bates was all eyes the two days it took her to read Duran’s novel: eyes glued to e-reader through workplace lunch hours, sneaked-in quarter hours, and staying up too late only to appear bleary-eyed at the breakfast table until she was delivered of a thoroughly satisfying end by late afternoon. Duran has been a favourite since Miss Bates was enthralled by The Duke of Shadows to the more recent, and one of Miss Bates’ favourite romance novels, A Lady’s Lesson In Scandal. Everything that appealed in those, Miss Bates found in gentler mode in Fool Me Twice: a sensitivity to the class issues of the day, a complex heroine, a flawed and compelling hero, wondrously good writing, a central couple who talk more than they couple and embody a meeting of equals akin to Jane and Rochester, who ” … stood at God’s feet, equal … ” Continue reading

REVIEW: Mira Lyn Kelly’s WAKING UP PREGNANT, Or “Love With the Proper Stranger”

Miss Bates loves the 1963 film, Love With the Proper Stranger, Angie Rossini and Rocky Papasano’s one-night-stand story (Wood and McQueen are wonderful). Angie lives with her widowed mother and brothers and is constrained by their control over her life. In an act of rebellion, she sleeps with Rocky and thereafter realizes she’s pregnant. Angie seeks Rocky to ask for help to pay for an abortion and he agrees. They spend several days together making arrangements. Two things happen: the day of, in a place sordid and frightening, Rocky stops Angie from going through with the abortion; and, Angie and Rocky reluctantly grow to know and like one another. There’s no insta-love. Rocky begrudgingly asks her to marry. Angie refuses and, yes, he has a hard time with that. It spurs his interest, however. (Another aspect to the film that is interesting is how Rocky and Angie want to escape the stifling atmosphere of their overly protective but strong-on-the-family-loyalty Italian-American clans.) The film ends with Angie’s “upper hand.” The possibility of an HEA is there, but not the surety. Angie is vindicated. Miss Bates loved Angie: determined to forge a life for herself, uncompromising in her desire for love and independence, resolved to marry on her terms, not her family’s or Rocky’s, or not marry at all. She is fearless and glowingly beautiful mama material, this Macy’s shop-girl barely scraping a living.

More Than One NightMiss Bates suspects that Mira Lyn Kelly aimed for the same effect in Waking Up Pregnant. Unlike the 1963 film, the 2014 novel doesn’t manage this as successfully. Miss Bates enjoyed reading it, thought it well-written, with innocuously sympathetic leads; however, its ethos was conventional and she couldn’t help comparing it, and it coming up short, to a film over 50 years old. It is a novel with a situation similar to that of Sarah Mayberry’s More Than One Night, which is not a Mayberry novel that received the attention it deserved, but Miss Bates liked it very MUCH. Kelly makes all the right noises for her heroine, Darcy, wanting independence and finding herself pregnant after a one-night stand; at least initially, makes her hero, Jeff, if not reluctant, then gobsmacked. But what’s most interesting about Stranger’s Rocky and One Night’s Rhys is their reluctance for insta-love for the heroine. They’re responsible and decent, but Waking Up Pregnantman, this is not where they want to be. The development of how they end up wanting to be there, as dads and husbands, is so much more believable and natural than the utterly-smitten-I’m-all-in-all-the-time Jeff. Romance novels are to a certain extent, yes, fantasies and Jeff’s sheer goodness, sexiness, and emotional open-ness are attractive, just not terribly compelling. It’s not as much fun when the hero doesn’t have far to fall (do check out Stranger‘s Rocky and his near-clownish antics at the end). Darcy too is an etiolated version of the Amazonian Angie. She pays lip-service to a “feisty” independence, but never enacts it. What does Waking Up Pregnant have going for it? Continue reading to find out

REVIEW: Jayne Fresina’s MISS MOLLY ROBBINS DESIGNS A SEDUCTION, Or Hoisted on Your Own Bobbin

Miss Molly Robbins Designs A SeductionMiss Bates loves a cross-class romance.  Indeed, it is one of her most frequently-used review tags!  Obviously, it is a trope that “works” better in historical fiction, but if The Great Gatsby is anything to go by and it is, then it has potential for contemporary romance.  In historical romance, however, Miss Bates’s (and many other romance reviewers much wiser and more widely romance-read than she) favourite cross-class romances are Elizabeth Hoyt’s Raven and Leopard Princes.  Miss Bates’s recent cross-class romance read was Jayne Fresina’s Miss Molly Robbins Designs A Seduction.  Fresina’s effort has similarities to Hoyt’s, but not their mastery, the weakest link being the cross-class element.  The ease with which this historical given is overcome puts the novel on the fluffy-wish-fulfillment shelf.  On the scale of MissBatesian goodness of romance reading, it is middling.  On the other hand, it is humourous and well-written and offers a likeable hero and heroine. Continue reading